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The Manchurian Candidate - Meryl Streep Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. You've stated that you've never seen the original? Why?
A.
Sheer laziness was the reason. I didn’t want to watch the film, I had never seen it, but I’m not really a cinephile. I don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of movies. So I missed it on the first go round, whenever it was released. I would have been very young then anyway.
Then when I got the job, I decided not to look at it, because I thought I might steal something from Angela Lansbury, and she wouldn’t appreciate it. Or I would be affected by the performance in some way and maybe react to it or do something arbitrary, not to be like her.
I saw it quite a bit... I didn’t read the novel because I didn’t have time to read the novel. I was reading other things, and I was watching a lot of political television. I was doing my homework that way.
When I saw the old film it made me realise how different this one is, and how specific they both are to their time. That’s why.

Q. Are people surprised that you’re not a movie buff?
A.
I have a very busy life, and not many people who have a career that’s time consuming, and have four kids, do go out a lot to the movies. I don’t know why I don’t watch a lot of movies, I can barely keep up with the current crop to responsibly vote on behalf of the Academy Awards. You have to see everything and I honestly don’t see everything.
I can barely keep up with the things my friends are in – which are the ones I vote for!
I haven’t seen the older ones. It’s like all the books you want to read. I try to keep current with the books I want to read this year, but I look at all the things I haven’t covered yet in the classics and blah, blah, blah. So there isn’t enough time in life, that’s all.

Q. What do you think of the political tone of the film? And was your performance inspired by any female politician in particular?
A.
My political views didn’t really line up perfectly with Eleanor Shaw’s, but I thought of it as a great opportunity to play someone and to understand someone not like me. I also thought that she presented a unique opportunity, because she was the full embodiment of everybody’s fear of women in power.
It’s so interesting, everyone here in England thinks it’s Maggie Thatcher, while everyone at home thinks it’s Hillary Clinton, because these are the two most formidable women in political life.
People have their fears, but those two women couldn’t be more dissimilar from each other, or from this character that I play, so I think we’re touching on something very deep about Mommy and the fear of her taking over, or something. But it’s all a great opportunity.

Q. Can you talk about your scene with Liev, in which some feelings, other than maternal ones, are suggested in your relationship with him?
A.
The scene was shot in a lot of different ways and from many different angles and there were a lot of different choices in different cuts of the film.
It really pulled it in an extreme direction each time we changed it. It was really interesting, that scene more than any other sort of worked its primal power.
In the end, we decided that less is more and you get what you get. You see everything that happens, everything that happens in front of you. It doesn’t elongate out into a bigger, longer scene.

Q. Isn't that an old-fashioned idea, 'less is more'?
A.
I think what’s great about it is that Jonathan had a decision, there were some in which there was intent all the way. There were some where it just seems to have occurred to both of them in the same moment. It was a labyrinth, and he loved cutting this scene. My God, there were so many versions of it.

Q. In the original, Angela Lansbury was only three-years older than her screen son – were you keen to de-mumsify the role?
A.
Liev is a friend, we worked together many years ago in a little play in Seattle. I knew him and could take the piss out of him. I’m really fond of him, and loved doing that because he was so stiff.
But I don’t really think of myself as ‘mumsy’ with him, but it did seem ridiculous to me that Angela Lansbury was only three years older than her screen son, and it seemed ridiculous to me that her son was British in the original.
There are things we accept from these classic films that we would never ever let Hollywood get away with. But it occupies a hallowed place even with the things that bother us about it.

Q. What did you think of your wardrobe in the film?
A.
I love costume, in my next life I’m going to be a costume designer because I really think that what you wear announces something to people.
But I’m incapable of dressing myself, someone dressed me and they left the thing [label] on. I’ve just realised that.
I’m a pain in the ass to all of the costume designers with whom I work because I have very strong feelings about this subject. Especially when I think of my women viewers.
When I sit with my husband in a movie, if the female character is bra-less, he notices. But other than that it doesn’t register. But we read the clues of our women characters so closely. I think we do that differently, and maybe some men do that too.
It was very important to me to have real good jewellery, we borrowed a lot of it from Fred Leighton and had lots of guards on the set – not for our well being, it was for the jewellery.
But the clink of those heavy pearls was like the clink of power and entitlement and all those things that being inside the beltway in Washington, and having that kind of access to power and money, conveys. I thought that was important, and the power suit is a trope of that kind of woman.

Q. Are you moving towards more theatre right now?
A.
I am, but the movies keep pulling me back. I had four jobs all of a sudden, thank God, I love making movies because it allows me to be home at night. I have one child still young, 13, and I like to be home at night and on the weekends, so it may have a little longer.

Q. What do you think of the state of roles being offered to you? Is it still difficult to find strong roles for women in Hollywood?
A.
I don’t know if it’s true, but Jonathan, like all good suitors, told me that I was the only one he wanted to play this part. I don’t know how many other actresses he sent it to and said that to, but I really believed him.
I thought it was really unusual, that even in the first half hour of a picture, a woman drove the plot and dynamics, the machine of the story so forceful and aggressively and so terrifyingly.
I loved having that much to say, it was almost like a play more than a movie in a way.
I think that things are changing, but every time you say that, they change back to the bad old days, but I do think that the emergence of the cable opportunities through HBO and Showtime, unconventional financing of films that are then deliberately taken on to television – they may not have a theatrical release but they reach a great many people – and some of the most exciting work is now happening in those venues on television.
There are many more independent pictures, and they are giving opportunities to older women.
But in my case, the biggest reason that I’m working is that there are two women at the heads of studios where I’ve worked in the last few years.
One is Amy Pascal, who runs Sony Pictures, and she gave the okay for me to be in Adaptation. That was really a part written for a 35-year-old, but Spike said he wanted me, and she said fine.
Another studio head would have said ‘eugh! Why? Let’s get somebody 16 years younger’. She was great with it.
And Sherry Lansing runs Paramount, and she has kept me in work in The Hours, and The Manchurian Candidate and Lemony Snicket. So I guess I’m here blood sister or something.
But I do think it’s harder for the studio heads that are men to be interested in stories that resemble their first wives.

Q. Denzel Washington said he was in awe of you when filming?
A.
Now he says that. He’s being nice to me, he wants me to take him to dinner in Venice. I pushed him into the potted plant, that’s the extent of my working with Denzel Washington, even though they sold me the project saying I’d get to work with Denzel. It was really brief, but we’ll do something.

Q. Do you think the film still has a political relevance?
A.
I think when things are really true and relevant to the time they’re relevant to every time and place.
To me, one of the biggest themes in this is the embeddedness of money and finance in influencing foreign policy. That’s something that, in America, our founding fathers worried about. They worried about the corporations. Dwight Eisenhower famously worried about the military-industrial complex unduly influencing governments.
So it’s something that’s been around a long time, it just periodically gets more pressing and more urgent.
And also another theme of this film is who pays. Who pays with their lives? Not the people that make the decisions or their children.

Q. Is the critical reaction to a film important to you?
A.
The work is the most fun, it’s the fun. It seems illicit in how much fun it is. But the critical reaction is satisfying. When other actors like you, that’s really good. I really like it when young people like my work. My son’s friends, because I think of being irrelevant or something, or not edgy enough or whatever they value now. It’s very gratifying to have that recognition.

Q. Where do you keep your Oscars?
A.
I keep them very high up on a shelf, and one’s begun to discolour horribly. I’m sure I should take it down and polish it up, but I haven’t. All that glitters is probably spray-on brass.

Q. Do you ever revisit any of your earlier work?
A.
I don’t. But last June I was honoured by the American Film Institute and they had a televised retrospective. It’s so horrifying to see how young I was, and how I didn’t appreciate it then.
That’s what I was trying to tell my daughters – ‘shut up about your hair!’. You know, all the things that they think are wrong, because you don’t know where you are in your life until you pass it.
Just seeing the snippets it really reminded me that it’s been a really long, interesting journey with a lot of amazingly talented people.
And the sad thing, too, that you see is how many of them are gone.
I’m thinking about Karel Reisz, Alan Pakula and Nestor Almendros, Joseph Papp – people who really made my career in the early days are all gone.
I can’t properly thank them, so it was great to be able to thank the people that are alive and that were there. that’s nice.

Q. Do your own kids pay any attention to your advice?
A.
Sometimes they do. Not on sartorial matters at all. I’m really waiting for that look to go away where there’s this much of the stomach, and the pubic are up to the sternum: Why?
They don’t listen to me that way, but they do listen to me. I have a good relationship with them mostly.

 

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